Google Assistant, Now Available On Ham Radio

Depending on who you talk to, Google Assistant is either a tool capable of quickly and clearly answering audio queries in natural langauge, or a noisier and less useful version of Wolfram Alpha. [William Franzin] decided it would be particularly cool to make the service available over ham radio – and that’s exactly what he did.

[William] got the idea for this project after first playing with the Internet Radio Linking Project, a system which uses VoIP technologies to link radio networks over the internet. Already having an IRLP node, it seemed only natural to make it into a gateway to the wider internet through integration with Google Assistant. Early work involved activating the assistant via DTMF tones, but [William] didn’t stop there – through the use of Picovoice, it became possible to use the system with the custom wakeword “Bumblebee”.

[William]’s project could prove particularly useful for when he’s out of cell coverage, but needs a little information like a weather report or a piece of trivia to settle an argument round the campfire. Additionally, it’s even possible to control the IRLP node through voice commands, too.

If you’re just getting started with ham radio, check out this build to get you started for under $100. Video after the break.

46 thoughts on “Google Assistant, Now Available On Ham Radio

  1. Just an obligatory legal note – do make sure that this sort of thing (connecting radios to anything Internet and erecting automated, unattended stations) is legal where you live. Having a HAM license is usually not sufficient here.

    The first one is problematic in many countries due to HAM radio regulations banning commercial traffic and non-HAM entities operating HAM transmitters. This comes from the ITU rules defining the amateur radio service, it isn’t just some local legal activism. It can be “creatively interpreted” to cover even (commercial*) Internet computers sending data and making a radio transmit (e.g. in response to a voice query from a HAM, as in the article) – some regulators are known to throw the book at people for doing this. In some countries it is fine, in some it isn’t, do check and don’t assume that because someone is doing it it is OK to do so as well! It could save you problems and a fine – there is always someone who will be happy to rat you out to the authorities for doing something they don’t approve of (yay, some folks in the HAM community …) so don’t rely on “nobody will know”.

    (* HAM radio computers linked over the Internet and not allowing general Internet traffic are fine but connecting to non-HAM stuff like Wolfram Alpha or Google is potentially problematic.)

    Re unattended stations – those generally need a special license that includes their location and who is responsible for them, own call sign and some administrative fees. The same procedures apply as for erecting a repeater or a packet radio network node. So do your paperwork it you decide to make this available beyond testing at home.

    1. This is why I find the HAM community insufferable.

      You let the FCC take as much as they like, and give it up to them with a smiling face, as if the government is your friend.

      Boundaries must always be pushed when it comes to experimenting with technology.

      1. There’s a lot of people who like to boss people around.

        Of course, the FCC doesn’t really care. It takes them forever to act on even repeated and egregious behavior that is highly disruptive and problematic. People can run around and try to bend the rules to the strictest possible interpretation, but no one is going to do anything about it.

        The commercial prohibition govern’s the traffic content, not the ownership of the originating machines. You really shouldn’t be using armature radio for business emails or online shopping, (technically you should run an adblocker so you aren’t transmitting adds), but it’s very much an honor system thing. The ARRL likes to tout all the FCC busts, but they all involve really over the top intentional misuse of the airwaves.

        I think we should follow the rules, but I also don’t think it encourages compliance when we just use them as an excuse to feel important either, since it’s so toothless.

      2. Agreed, never seen a discussion about ham radio that wasn’t like 25-50% legal warnings and “you can’t do that” and other general regulatory consternation.

        If left to their own devices the only thing the FCC and ARRL etc. will ever let people do is exchange call signs and contest and nostalgically pretend it’s the olden days when Morse code was everywhere and radios were gigantic machines full of discrete components and tubes and dials. I love that old equipment, and I’m all for some historical LARPing on occasion, but if we want the hobby to join the 21st century, attract a new generation of enthusiasts, and survive in general we are going to have to push back against the stodgy traditionalists and lots of archaic rules. I’ve used various ham’s scanners with plenty of nice antennas. The airwaves are a damn graveyard these days. There’s so much room for new and innovative use, and the FCC isn’t gonna stop gratuitously tugging off Verizon and friends for five minutes to help hams of their own volition. Somebody’s gotta make them. There’s no reason for the rules to be so extremely conservative and restrictive and intolerant of experimentation. Radios are way more robust and efficient with power and bandwidth and resistant to interference than they used to be way back when.

      3. The pecuniary interest clause might be an issue. For example, using amateur radio bands for 802.11 type links is probably fine as long as the traffic does not generate any revenue for anyone. Software and information of interest to and related to amateur radio would probably be fine, so long as there’s no advertising or provisioning of monetized corporate services.

        Google compiling metadata from searches is definitely monetized, so I suspect the FCC could shut this down if they wanted to.

      4. Operating an amateur radio is not a right it is a privilege. It is also a privilege to be allowed the use of a finite resource, radio spectrum. Should amateur radio operators go rogue as you seem to suggest, we could eventually find ourselves shut down.

      5. Probably feeding a troll. But last I look those licensed in the FCC amateur radio service have a hell of lot more leeway in regards to experimentation those licensed in other FCC radio services, and the general public, have.

      6. Wow. I see a lot of people getting mad here about rules that they apparently don’t even know!

        I can’t speak for other countries but in the United States the letter of the law states that you may not broadcast anything that either yourself or your employer has a pecuniary interest in. So what are you worried about? Just don’t use something like this for work purposes. Even if Google Voice happens to answer your question with a sponsered listing… so what? So long as it isn’t YOUR company’s sponsored listing that is technically ok.

        That doesn’t mean that some hams might not have a problem. Many suffer from the same misunderstanding that is shown here. Others are just protective of ham bandwidth. To be fair, if we could legally use ham radio the same way we use our cellular internet services we would run out of bandwidth pretty much immediately. That’s not even an FCC rule thing, that’s just physics. We all give it up to the laws of physics!

        So, anyway, does any of that stop someone from doing this? Apparently not. Need some precedent before you will believe me? Just look at WinLink 2000. It acts as an internet-email/ham radio gateway. People have been bitching for decades that it gets abused sending emails that the user has pecuniary interest in or are otherwise inappropriate. Is the FCC stepping in and taking that away? No.

        Don’t get me wrong. Give recent events such as the gutting of net neutrality I am all for FCC bashing but let’s at least keep the bashing factual please!

        1. Of course, he is Canadian. Perhaps laws are stricter there and he is breaking one? I wouldn’t know but I’m responding to people talking about the FCC and that is part of the US government not the Canadian one. Which of course makes the original post all the worse.

    2. Jan doesn’t mention where (s)he is from. While this seems true in countries that are very restrictive on hams like France, India, etc, it is definitely not true in the US and Canada. I have to agree with Fitzydog too (not just ham radio, but people in general).

      Basically in the USA the rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t compete with a for-profit service like cell phones (hence all the now-outdated rules on autopatches, and the rule against business use) or threaten public safety (the whole Baofeng & company mess along with the new restrictions of FRS / GMRS radios) the FCC will let you do whatever you want within reason.

      This is a very interesting way to use a voice search service and Lewin’s project is very worthwhile, especially if you get in a situation where you need some old-fashioned analog voice backhaul to reach a digital PoP such as living in the boonies or an EMCOMM situation. At the very least it’s an awesome demo!

    1. Hi Joe,

      What you see in these demos is entirely software, so there are no schematics for it. The stock IRLP system already covers everything necessary and was (I think) the first radio over IP setup, I was given a board to learn about how to setup nodes and thought I’d try some ideas as well. Can do this with any platform – analog or digital with the right gear.

      Here’s some links that cover various approaches to building voice control along with great-good documentation:

      Google Assistant: https://developers.google.com/assistant/sdk/
      Amazon Alexa: https://developer.amazon.com/alexa-voice-service/sdk
      Picovoice Rhino: https://github.com/Picovoice/rhino/blob/master/README.md

      All you need is a device/platform that you can run these examples on. The IRLP system happens to be Linux and have the hardware necessary for radio interfacing so makes an easy starting point. A Raspberry Pi, or a USB radio interface such as the DMK URI, or homebrew alternatives would work too. Just need a platform, audio, and general purpose IO.

      The only modification required to these SDK examples are adding the ability for the code to turn on/off a transmitter. In the case of the IRLP system we’ve already been provided with command-line “key” and “unkey” binaries. I took the Python code and added a call to “key” and “unkey” in the right places.

      Also we have to be careful about preventing runaway code talking or making undesired output over the radio. I’ve added timeout (using the Linux timeout -60s command) to prevent the assistants from running >1 minute. You can limit things further by disabling feeds, and changing the code to only allow a single question/response cycle. (Break;)

      I think it’s important to separate the “voice control” here from the platforms that make it possible. You can provide voice control features “bring up the link” entirely without the Internet using code such as Picovoice’s Rhino – then any concern over “Google is transmitting” or “the Internet is transmitting” is eliminated. It’s just a replacement for DTMF.

      Being able to simply ask a repeater “turn on the link to ABC” is much easier than learning DTMF commands, it also can respond using voice “link to ABC turned on”. That’s really no different than pressing DTMF digits and receiving a CW audio or text to speech response.

      So there you have it – give it a try. When I thought about my 9 year old vehicle and being able to say “call home” or those type of commands, voice has been around in mobile devices, vehicles, for a long time. It’s just reached a point where it’s really easy to do this now.

      Best regards
      William VE4VR

      1. It has always seemed odd to me that repeaters can be turned on/off or otherwise managed over the air with no real security. Imagine a computer plugged into the internet that way!

        Again, I can’t speak for other countries, and I see that you are a VE but here in the US the law is against “codes and ciphers that are intended to obscure the meaning of what is being communicated”. So I guess then here and in countries with the same law codes and ciphers intended not to obscure the meaning but rather to authenticate identity should be ok?

        To be on the safe side and not to get into an argument with a judge (who will of course always win) regarding the ‘intent’ of a transmission after the fact I am thinking the way to do this would be a public/private key cipher. Control codes would be concatenated with the date/time, a sequence number or even some extra random junk and then encoded with the private key. The public key would be broadcast in the clear along with the callsign (also in the clear) at no greater than 10 minute intervals. This way anyone who wants to decode your control transmissions can. Nobody could say you were trying to obscure anything. Only people you give the private key to however could send control codes themselves. Even if someone tried to re-transmit a coded transmission that you sent they couldn’t do it because the date/time or sequence number would be off.

        In the US we do have an exception on encryption rules for space stations. My understanding is that this has been liberally interpreted to include repeaters and other devices that are in hard to reach places. But why even have such an exception? It could be abused and it would be hard to catch or to prove because the content is encrypted. Formalizing this idea that it is ok to use public/private key encryption so long as you broadcast your callsign and public key in the clear would be more consistent and harder to abuse. Making the law more clear in this way would make ham radio more useful to us “hackers” and thus perhaps bring in more younger people.

    2. On my side after a bit of thinking, I am sure this can be done on allstarlink and about every digital network.

      Take a look at the dvswitch project. It is a way to link different digital voice stream and send it back to either an analog reeater or another digital voice mode like DMR to Fusion to Dstar to P25 to analog. Not specificaly in that order and not every mode need to be in the loop.. pretty nice little project.. search on github ;-)

      With that project, injecting the audio to the AI and back to the repeater looks pretty feasable.
      Heck I will be looking into this tonight ;-)

  2. With the long history of problems at 14.313 and 7200 that have long been ignored (oh yeah an occasionally prosecution now and then), I find it hard to believe that this would be taken more seriously.

      1. Worse, they are averse to perceived scofflawery that isn’t even “scofflawery”! Well.. by US rules anyway. And he is in Canada. MAYBE it is illegal there. I am not going to research that today! Regardless, most of the complainers are mentioning the FCC as if the FCC had any authority in Canada! By FCC rules he is just fine.

  3. It is not illegal to have automated system and connecting them to the internet In Canada, in the US and many other free country. You do need the good licence to do it..

    For those that say you cant pass commercial signal on ham radio, you are right. But voice saying the temp and such thing are NOT commercial information. It is already done on many allstarlink repeater with a simple script that take your area wheater information and transfert it to a text to speech engine and Voila! all this from the wheater service alert system.

    And one other thing. the data that run on the tcp-ip network never touch the ham repeater directly. It need to be proccessed by the AI and the AI then put the information as speech over the air. The only thing that is sent is speech as an audio IDer would do.

    The AI dont even need internet for working. Go check the picovoice web site.. You will learn a few stuff on AI and start to understand what it is about.. This is not Google ou Apple ou Amazon listening on you all day long.. And for the one that are saying it can inflinge on there privacy.. What privacy do you expect to have on a ham radio repeater????? Afraid someone can digitalize your voice? If you send your voice over the air it can be done with a simple radio and a cell phone recording software..

    Last words.. Paranoia is treatable, being dumb is not…

    Pierre
    VE2PF

      1. Unfortunately I think most ignorance out there is of the willful variety. Ignorance is only treatable when it is non-willful. You can explain the truth all day long to the willfully ignorant and they will only ignore it.

        I’m happy to just call that dumb.

  4. Nice! I have done this but I done mine the hard way. Hard wired it to a repeater port. Rc210… I have full control over. But man, a software interface… You have got to checkout DVSwitch! Lots of great stuff going on over there. ASL to Google! Is what you have done here! Absolutely brilliant! I would love trying it out on my repeater.. 73’

  5. Hurray something else Google will sell your data on. Now it will be a matter of time before ham radios just become a cellphone. Wait that already exists. Keep this nonsense off ham radios the great as they are.

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